Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Canada”

Happy 60th Birthday to City Lights Bookstore

I find the death of the bookstore to be sad. I have found myself taking my sons to my local independent bookstores and even having pit stops when we are on the road at a Barnes and Noble. It makes sense – B&N have good bathrooms, passable coffee, and we can walk around.

I am as much to blame for the demise of the bookstore as anyone. I deny any connection to my first public author signing at a Borders and their announcement the next day that they were closing all stores.

Borders 0211I buy most of my books online and as ebooks. It is not just a matter of convenience or price: I genuinely believe in the environmental necessity of ebooks. As an author, my focus is on creating an online platform and this translates (outside the first week or so of a book launch) into consistently selling more ebooks than tree books.

But I realize that I am increasingly treating these trips to a bookstore like a visit to a museum. I will tell my children how you can make spontaneous choices this way, ask advice from staff who are always genuine book lovers (they would not work there I assume otherwise), and enjoy the smell of the bookstore.

My kids know that I am not exactly telling the truth. We rarely buy books on these visits, scouring the bargain bins perhaps, and I often resort to their please to purchase something that I will look it up used online.

I recently went to a book launch of a friend and bought her book at the store, standing in line to get her autograph. It is the actions of a good friend showing up for someone they care about. The book was one-third more expensive than it was new on Amazon. But this is a friend and, in a strange sense, I felt an appreciation for the staff of the bookstore for hosting her.

But one bookstore stands alone, at least in my stomping grounds. Last month City Lights celebrated its 60th birthday. There is a great article here and I don’t want to simply hash out the same story.

imgres-3When I first came to the US and told someone that I dreamed about using fiction as social activism and commentary on our society, they smiled: “You gonna be another Kerouac?”

I could see the disappointment on their face when I asked: “Who?” I looked around, half expecting the immigration police to appear, tear up my green card, and deport me to Canada.

Patriotically, I devoured On The Road and The Dharma Bums, and this began a long and wonderful journey into the beat movement. I feel privileged to still meet men and women who were beatniks. The sequel to Unwanted Heroes is a modern day tribute to the beat generation.

When I told someone of my new interest, they promptly sent me to City Lights (and the Jack Kerouac Alley, and the museum, and oh those delicious Italian pastries in North Beach!).

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I often return to City Lights and always buy a book. I stand in reverence on the top floor, which is dedicated to the beatniks who gathered there under Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I wrote a scene in the sequel to Unwanted Heroes, which I really witnessed as an elderly couple came upstairs and were looking through a coffee table-type book of the beatniks in Paris. They found a photo that included the old man. We spent a wonderful hour together as he reminisced. It was a very special hour and one I will never forget.

That doesn’t happen at an online bookstore. Even if this gentleman had crafted a well-written article about his time in Paris, it could never compare to sitting and listening to him telling it in his own voice.

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It was a magical moment – so thank you to City Lights for still being around. I will bring my sons to the bookstore and they can buy any darn book they want!

Happy 60th birthday.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of GalbriethAlon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

NRA: An Advocate for Gun Control

You write about the National Rifle Association and you will hit a nerve as I did last week. But I remain fascinated with the organization and found this article.

Mike Dendinger claims that the NRA has been a consistent supporter of methods to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. It has also supported responsible supervision whenever children or the untrained are allowed access to guns. In fact, the NRA adversarial stance is more a response to, or at least parallels, the rise of the liberal anti-gun platform.

“The NRA’s opposition to other forms of gun control appears to have coalesced in the 1970’s, when the idea of gun confiscation first started to appear in the philosophy of the American left. At that point, the NRA seems to have evolved to oppose any form of gun control that would allow the government to maintain databases of gun owners and their guns. Because such databases would facilitate government confiscation of firearms (as subsequently happened in Canada), they were anathema to NRA members.

Prior to the ’70’s, the NRA was not perceived as opposing gun control simply because there wasn’t much to oppose. In the twenties, civilians could buy Thompson submachine guns and Browning Automatic Rifles via mail order. The National Firearms Act of 1934, contrary to popular belief, did not prohibit civilians from owning fully automatic weapons, but instead imposed formidable licensing requirements. The camel’s nose poked a little farther into the tent with the Gun Control Act of 1968, passed in response to the terrible string of political assassinations in the ’60’s. The GCA imposed severe restrictions on the sale and/or transfer of firearms, especially in interstate commerce. It was in the decade following the GCA of 1968 that the NRA became more active in opposing gun control.”

This historical perspective suggests that there might be more common ground between two seemingly polemic stances, one that might facilitate a safer society. Perhaps we don’t need to agree on everything to facilitate a safer environment.

Once we stop posturing and begin to establish common ground, who knows where it might take us?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

Book Tour to Canada: Words I Write Crazy

Next stop on the virtual tour took me to Cochrane, Alberta, Canada where The Accidental Activist was reviewed by Louisa  at Words I Write Crazy. 

Thank you for the review, Louisa.

Tomorrow – exciting news…

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Oil sands in Canada – should we? RhondaJo Boomington

From Alon – RhondaJo is joining our team. Please click here (or scroll down) to get acquainted. Over to you, RhondaJo:

Last night, at dinner with a young fellow who is working at the Canadian Consulate this summer, I got a crash course on the Oil Sands of Canada.

The oil sands consist of oil that is encased in a type of thick sludge, which has the consistency of cold molasses at room temperatures. According to the New York Times, “Canadian oil sands are expected to become America’s top source of imported oil this year, surpassing conventional Canadian oil imports and roughly equaling the combined imports from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait”

Some people believe that oil sands are the answer to the United States’ unfulfilled need for oil that we can not produce. There’s no drilling in the ocean, no wrangling over supply from the Mid East. Just essentially an unlimited supply from a friendly neighbor.

Ah – but there’s a but. Isn’t there always – when we’re jockeying for the oil that we need?

The process of separating of the oil from the sludge  is dirty business, creating vast amounts of greenhouse emissions, far surpassing those created from drilling. And forests are ravaged in the process.

By 2030, oil sands are production may make up 36% of United States oil imports. There are plans to build a pipeline from Canada to transport the oil to Texas. The latest word is that the State Department is “inclined to approve the line on energy security grounds.”

Then the EPA will weigh in. The EPA may attempt to involve Obama – and Obama may simply stay out of the fray and suggest the two entities compromise amongst themselves.

I am not advocating for the use of oil sands. I am suggesting that oil sands are a reality about which we should learning more.

Yes, we should pursue biofuels (which is the research project of  another dinner companion that night). And electric cars and new fangled car designs that can ensure that our future is less dependent upon oil.

Cars of our future?

But in the meantime, my relatives, along with millions of others in middle America have to drive their older, gas guzzling cars to their job at the factory. To keep our economy going. To keep their families going.

Factory Worker

In getting the oil we need to live now – bad things will happen to the environment somewhere. It’s simply a fact.

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RhondaJo Boomington landed in the haven of Berkeley six years ago and she never plans to leave. Formally a fundamentalist from North Carolina, she always voted for for Jesse Helms. Now she relishes her liberal lesbian life in the Bay Area. Her  J.D.  and a Masters of Divinity degree provides great material for her gigs as a stand up comic and solo performance artist.

California Leadership: Real Health Care Reform

Is the adage, “As California goes, so goes the Nation” still true? Obviously, there’s a lot of truth in that saying, just look at these trends: anti-smoking laws, car emissions and mileage standards, civil rights and medical cannabis. These were considered radical in their day but are now widely accepted ideas. And don’t forget California’s pop culture: skateboarding, drag racing, valley girls, car-hops, and plastic boobs.

This year California will have the opportunity to spread her leadership wings again by passing Senate Bill 810, Single Payer Universal Health Care.

You may be asking: why do we need a State health care program when we just passed a Federal Health Care Reform package? Well, the Federal reform does have some good elements but it is a watered down piece of crap. By the time the conservatives and lobbyists got through with it, the insurance companies were laughing all the way to the bank. The old dog Republican leaders are still screaming repeal but that’s just positioning propaganda for the lemming followship. These leaders know it’s a sweet honey-hole for the ones that grease their palms.

Can California afford Single Payer Universal Health Care? The short answer is yes. The State is the seventh largest world economy.

Let’s compare the economic power of California with two countries that have great universal health care, Canada and the United Kingdom. California has 37 million people and a GDP of ~$2.0 Trillion. Canada has 34 million people and a GDP of ~$1.6 Trillion while the UK has 67 million people and a GDP of ~$2.3 Trillion. Revenue per capita for California, Canada and the UK is $54K, $46K and $37K respectively. These numbers easily show that California is, by far, richer than many countries that offer universal health care.

The United States is the only modern industrialized country that does not have universal health care. Compared to other countries, the US health care system is ranked 37th, pathetic considering we are the richest country is the world. Big Business should not be allowed to profit from healthcare insurance while having the power to also deny the protection. It’s like the fox guarding the hen house. For profit health insurance is a moronic notion.

Excessive “Hollywood antics” are now prevalent in politics but Californians are wise to this over-the-top acting. They are not fooled by Sarah Palin “death panel” rhetoric and understand that separating the financial component from the actual medical care is beneficial. Life, death and health decisions will be made by doctors and not by Wall Street’s paper-pushing financial executives.

California will lead the nation by passing SB 810.

-Roger Ingalls

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Roger Ingalls is well travelled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

My Heart is an Open Book

Staying with the romantic theme for another day, searching on-line for one’s partner is on my mind. No, no, Mrs. Blog knows I am writing this.

I remember the first time I heard from friends who were open about using on-line dating services. Until this point I had  a very negative, stereotypical profile of such people. Watching these two young, successful and charismatic people at their wedding, proudly encourage anyone who was single and seeking a partner to take the path that brought them together.

Now, five years later, as I pack up my papers at the end of a business meeting, three young men share their experiences using different websites. It is a serious conversation and I eavesdrop on them as they talk. All three are socially competent, communicative, nice young men.  All three have the financial means to cruise the bars and clubs, and would probably enjoy themselves whether they met future spouses or not.

They do not see on-line dating as a last resort. On the contrary, they allocate their time and resources in this respect, as they do in the rest of their lives, with efficient and effective strategy. It makes total sense to them, products of the technological age that they are, and they harbor no doubts that they will achieve their goals.

How does one choose which site to use? Well, I know of on-line dating sites that use religious, geographical, sexual preference and other parameters, but I was surprised to discover that you might want to consider a potential partner by the books they read. As an author, this perked my interest.

Alikewise is “a dating site that allows you to find people based on their book tastes.” We often ask a potential partner what books they read, essentially perceiving this as a way of further understanding them. So why not save time and have this discussion on-line? In fact, why not use it as criteria? Alikewise is already spreading its wings to the US, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, and Israel.

So next time you sidle up to someone in a bar/party/club and need to yell into their ear: “so watcha reading?” and then strain to hear his/her answer, maybe consider Alikewise instead.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

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